Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” 16 So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:
“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ 23 Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ – Acts 13:13-25
Diane and I just enjoyed a delightful conversation with a young couple from our church. They had some questions about the Lutheran perspective on baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as well as other issues of the Christian faith. Throughout that conversation it became obvious that we were looking at things from two different perspectives. To some extent much of the issues at stake were merely a matter of perspective. Some were more substantive. But we all agreed in the most essential of truths about God, Jesus, life, and salvation: Salvation is God’s free gift for the sake of Jesus which we receive by faith. We also agreed that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are means of grace for which we are thankful. But our perspectives were different, and they shaped our questions and our answers.
In these verses from Acts, we see the missional perspective in bold relief. Paul and his companions are literally “on a mission from God.” Or better yet, they were on mission with God; seeking and saving the lost. They visit a synagogue and are invited to speak: of course they will speak. And they will tell the story of Jesus from the perspective of their Jewish audience.
Talk about Jesus’ salvation and the will speak about John the Baptist (implying that they were doing the same). In that case, John offers the best of all missional perspective: We are nothing. We’re not the main act. We have only the message calling people to repentance and faith. When it’s all said and done, furthermore, the main act is yet to come. He is so much more than me; so much greater, important, powerful, worthy, and life-changing.
The missional perspective has little to do with having all the answers, able to confound the troublers, or sway the masses. The missional perspective is to point people to Jesus. He is God’s answer for all the world. Kings didn’t solve Israel’s problems. Judges had not fixed the ills of the Hebrews. Even rescue from Egypt and the gift of the Promised Land didn’t bring the fullness of life with God. They needed a Savior.
I have said before that the Old Testament is a giant object lesson about “What Won’t Work”. If we use the Bible (only) to tell people how to live, succeed, and make their way through this life, we have not embraced the missional perspective. If we do embrace the missional perspective, we will rejoice when anyone encounters the gospel, stay cool when under pressure, and entrust ourselves to God, looking for opportunities to honor him, remembering that Jesus truly is the only hope for the world.